International stars grace the classical stage

Richard Burnett

Opera, ballet and classical music lovers have a wealth of choices as international stars will grace Montreal’s finest stages this winter and spring 2018.

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A Night at the Symphony

Montreal is home to two great symphony orchestras, the Orchestre Métropolitain headed by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, lead by Grammy-winning conductor and rock star of the classical world, Maestro Kent Nagano.

In his 12th year at the helm of the OSM, Nagano will conduct a blockbuster production of Verdi’s Requiem, with world-class voices – soprano Patrizia Ciofi, mezzo-soprano Marie-Nicole Lemieux, tenor Ovidiu Purcel, bass Nicolas Brownlee and the OSM Chorus – on March 21, 24 and 25 at the Maison symphonique de Montréal.

The OSM’s Nordic Spring Festival is a fun way to (re)discover music from various Nordic countries – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden – under the direction of Finnish conductor John Storgårds. There are three concerts in all (April 24 to 26), notably Tales and Legends of The North, which will pay tribute to Aboriginal and Inuit cultures.

Conductor Dina Gilbert will lead the OSM in a live performance of Hollywood composer and conductor John Williams’ soundtrack of film director Steven Spielberg’s iconic E.T. the Extraterrestrial, which will be screened at the same time, at the Maison symphonique de Montréal on May 22.


The OSM and Nagano will also perform Beethoven’s nine symphonies over the course of five concerts (May 27 to June 2) during the Beethoven Festival. These masterpieces remain relevant today. As Nagano – who idolizes Beethoven – told me some years ago, “In the late ’60s, one of the bumper stickers around was ‘Beethoven grooves.’ I remember when I saw that my eyes popped out! ‘Beethoven grooves.’”

Fifty years later, it’s the Maestro Nagano who grooves.

Over at the Orchestre Métropolitain, Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin – the Montréal homeboy who will become music director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York beginning in 2020 – conducts two concerts of note: Yannick Nézet-Séguin & Serhiy Salov (which will climax with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4) on March 2; and Rolando Villazon Returns, starring the famed French-Mexican tenor, on May 5. Both OM shows will be presented at the Maison symphonique de Montréal.

One Night Stands

Much buzzed-about shows include renowned Montréal soprano Marie-Josée Lord, who will perform her one-woman show Femmes with the Laval Symphony Orchestra at Théatre Maisonneuve, as part of the annual Montréal en Lumière Festival on February 27; Pro Musica and the OSM co-present Grammy-winning superstar Italian classical pianist Maurizio Pollini at the Maison symphonique de Montréal – his first Montréal concert in almost 30 years, on April 15; and Kent Nagano will guest-conduct the McGill Symphony Orchestra on February 13, also at the Maison symphonique de Montréal. Tip of the hat to Nagano for paying it forward.

A Night at the Opera

The Opéra de Montréal continues its stellar 2017-2018 season with the Canadian premiere of the much-anticipated opera JFK by American composer David T. Little and Canadian librettist Royce Vavrek. Praise for this opera—which was jointly commissioned by the Fort Worth Opera, the American Lyric Theater and the OdeM, and which premiered in Fort Worth in April 2016—has been unanimous.

Rather than giving us the story of Kennedy’s assassination, the opera chronicles the 12 hours leading up to the assassination by exploring the inner lives of John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline. JFK plays at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier on January 27 and 30, and February 1 and 3, at 7:30 p.m.

The OdeM’s 38th season continues with productions of the a cappella chamber opera Svadba (March 24 to 31) and Gounod’s 1867 classic Roméo et Juliette (May 19 to 26), adapted from Shakespeare’s play.

Under the direction of Artistic Director Boris Brott, the McGill Chamber Orchestra will present two operas during its current 78th season.

The first is Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, in collaboration with Opera McGill, directed by Patrick Hansen (March 23-24-25 at Pollack Hall) and conducted by Maestro Brott.

In fact, Bernstein was Brott’s mentor: “I was 23-24 when I worked with Bernstein,” Brott recalls. “It was a wonderfully inspiring time. He lived and breathed music and life. The two intertwined in a most wonderful way. He truly was a genius and a wonderful teacher. His love of education and teaching inspired me to do the same at various orchestras over the decades.”

The second MCO opera is Mozart’s Don Giovanni with staging by Oriol Tomas, April 15 at the historic Monument National.

Meanwhile, Opera McGill showcases the outstanding professional-calibre work of McGill University students, and will present three performances of Donizetti’s classic opera Lucia di Lammermoor, January 26-27-28, also at the Monument National.

Classical Dance

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal presents a couple of world-renowned guest companies at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier this season: The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg will perform their acclaimed Requiem from February 21 to 25; and Cinderella – a fixture of the classical repertoire – will be performed by The National Ballet of Ukraine, from May 2 to 6.

Richard Burnett

Richard Burnett, blogger

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

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